Daines proposes legislation to reverse Cottonwood decision

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) on June 24 led a Republican bill that would remove the so-called Cottonwood decision, which the senator considers a roadblock to responsible forest management efforts on federal lands.

“Even the Obama Administration agreed that the Cottonwood decision was flawed and crippled forest management,” Sen. Daines said last week. “This law has tied the hands of our land managers, prevented them from following the best available science in management decisions, and diverted resources for a paperwork exercise yielding no conservation benefit.”

In 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. United States Forest Service (Cottonwood) that the U.S. Forest Service needed to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the programmatic level following the 2009 designation of critical habitat for the Canada lynx, according to information provided by the lawmaker’s office.

As a result, courts halted projects during the consultation process throughout the 18 national forests inhabited by lynx. In 2018, a partial legislative fix was achieved. However, the Cottonwood ruling created a new standard for reconsultation on forest plans when “new information” claims are made, according to Sen. Daines, who said such claims continue to hold up forest management projects across the West.

Hence, Sen. Daines last week sponsored S. 4057 with three other GOP original cosponsors, which would require neither the U.S. Secretary of the Interior nor the U.S. Agriculture Secretary to reinitiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 or the Code of Federal Regulations “on the basis of new information relating to a species listed as threatened or endangered or critical habitat,” according to the text of the bill.

“By cutting unnecessary red tape, we will improve the health of our forests, reduce the risk of severe wildfires, advance wildlife habitat projects, and support good paying timber jobs,” Sen. Daines said in support of S. 4057.

The bill also has strong support from the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Montana Wood Products Association, the American Loggers Council, the American Forest Resource Council, the Idaho Forest Group, and the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, among others.